In a male-dominated society, it’s no easy feat for a woman to make her mark. But that hasn’t stopped Purnima Gurung from making her presence known not just in her native country of Nepal, but around the world as well. As the first female to scale six 8,000m peaks in one season, Purnima is no stranger to breaking new barriers and setting records. In this interview with Team GB Insider, Purnima talks about how she became the first woman to scale Mt. Dhaulagiri and other high peaks in one season – and why she will continue climbing them again during future seasons!
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Tell us about your first experience with climbing. How did you get into it?
I have been fascinated by mountains since childhood. I was born and raised in Pokhara, a city that is surrounded by the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Himalayan Ranges, and the view of the mountains from my home was always breathtaking. As a child, I would gaze out at the mountains and dream of reaching the top one day. This passion for mountains has stayed with me through the years and I continue to be obsessed with reaching the top of mountains.
My first experience with climbing was when I was in college. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who encouraged us to try out different sports and activities. He had tried scaling mountains when he was younger and talked about the adventure and the thrill he experienced while doing so. His stories of adventure and scaling the mountains excited my imagination and inspired me to try out climbing. He also helped me to find a group of people to go climbing with. So, my first experience with climbing was a trip to the Himalayas when I was 19 years old. About five years later, I went back to climbing seriously when I joined a mountaineering school as a course instructor. It was there that I got to learn the skills needed to scale mountains and I began to get serious about climbing again.
Purnima’s journey to becoming the first Nepali woman to scale Mt. Dhaulagiri
The first 8,000-meter peak I climbed was Annapurna in 2004 as a part of an expedition led by a group from the U.K. The expedition was almost entirely funded by a single sponsor and the team was made up of climbers from the U.K., Germany, the U.S., and Nepal. I was the only woman among the climbers. It was an incredible experience to climb the mountain with such a diverse group of people and I learned a lot from them as well. We successfully scaled the mountain. A few years later, in 2008, I guided a group to climb Manaslu. It was then that I received a trekking permit to lead a team to scale Mt. Dhaulagiri, which I successfully summited in 2009.
Mt. Dhaulagiri: The First of Six 8,000m Peaks for Purnima
In 2018, I set out to scale six 8,000-meter peaks in one season. I wanted to try something that had never been done before by a woman. I chose to do this because I wanted to set an example for women who, like me, are passionate about climbing and want to pursue this as a career. I wanted to show them that it’s possible for a woman to pursue this as a career and, just like men, women can also scale the highest peaks in the world. Purnima with her team atop Mt. Initially, my team was only made up of men, but after I explained to them my plans, they agreed to join me. It was a difficult journey, but we successfully scaled six 8,000-meter peaks: Mt. Dhaulagiri (Nepal), Mt. Manaslu (Nepal), Mt. Cho Oyu (China), Mt. Shishapangma (China), Mt. Broad Peak (Pakistan), and Mt. Gasherbrum II (Pakistan).
What is next for Purnima?
As soon as I complete my next expedition, which is to scale the seven highest summits in the world, I am planning to climb Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. After that, I want to climb Mt. Everest. If everything goes according to plan, I hope to accomplish all these climbs within the next three years.
I hope my story inspires people to pursue their dreams and follow their passions, no matter what. I hope it inspires others to climb mountains. Not only does it bring out the best in people and provides them with a sense of fulfillment, but it also allows them to enjoy the beauty of nature from a different perspective. It allows people to come closer to nature and understand it better. If you are a woman and have been inspired by my story and want to pursue climbing as a hobby, then go for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man, or if you have the financial resources or not. There are many ways to scale mountains, and the most important thing is that you do it on your terms.